House of Lords: Size - Motion to Resolve (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:01 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:01 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, a great deal of what needs to be said has already been said, and repetition is inevitable. It is also quite daunting to come on to the stage after so many star actors have already done their turn, but I shall press on. I do so speaking as a member of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, so ably and consistently led by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, without whose tireless advocacy I think it is fair to say this debate would not be taking place. We have much to be grateful to them for.

I speak also with experience of membership of the Labour Peers’ Working Group, to which my noble friends Lady Taylor and Lord Dubs referred and whose 2014 report has already been mentioned. I have also been a member of several other informal groups during what is now getting around to being nearly a decade. Over all that time and with all that talking, thinking and writing, the emphases of conclusions may have been different from time to time, but the issue of numbers has been increasingly prominent, especially since 2010.

As has already been said cogently, most recently by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, but also by others who preceded him, we live in dangerous political times, both here and elsewhere. There are huge challenges ahead. It is vital that our institutions are able to meet those challenges robustly. They must be trusted. At the moment, the House of Lords is particularly vulnerable. It is true that the issue of numbers is partly a practical matter, but it is so only partly—although the growing cost of the House is not insignificant. We in the House know what the realities are: probably that no more than 500 of us are regularly active. But the continuing ability of hostile commentators to portray us as bloated, self-serving and unrepresentative—all adjectives which we have already heard today—severely undermines that precious thing, our reputation, and allows the vital scrutiny, committee and other work that we do to be either overlooked or wilfully misrepresented, which happens a great deal.

The Government have made it clear that they have no intention of embarking on parliamentary reform on any scale any time soon—which is no surprise given everything else they have in front of them. However, we should not let this Parliament go by without doing what we can to address the concerns raised here today and elsewhere. I support the aim of this Motion and ask the Leader of the House, when she comes to reply, to support the establishment of a Select Committee as soon as possible to investigate how numbers can be reduced and then capped at a manageable level, taking as a framework the key criteria of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about—as we have heard many times already—the essential primacy of the Commons, this House not being larger than the Commons, the 20% of Cross-Benchers and no one party having an overall majority.

Much work has already been done, including by the Labour Peers’ Working Group and others, that would assist such a Select Committee. It ought not to need to sit for a protracted period. I really hope that by the end of this debate there will be enough support shown—I believe a consensus is building—for it to be obvious to the Leader that she should take that particular project under her wing.

I will say one brief word about a matter that I do not think has yet been raised in this debate, and I do so with a certain amount of trepidation: it is the issue of restoration and renewal. I have been around a few restorations and renewals of iconic buildings, not ever on this scale but some of them with enormous controversy attached. When you undertake a project of that kind, particularly where public money is involved, controversy is almost inevitable. How do you overcome that? You do so by demonstrating through the creation of a better building that you will also create a better institution. Such an opportunity is before us now. I know not everyone agrees with exactly how the restoration and renewal project should be undertaken; indeed, we have not yet had a chance to debate that. However, it is pretty obvious that the building needs it—so does the institution. Let us take this opportunity to get ahead on the institution so that it is in good shape before the building catches up.